Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Coffee cups commemorating “missing persons” from Srebrenica: “Why aren’t you here?...”
"Why aren't you here?..."
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Today I would like to share with you very interesting news from the Balkan Insight written by Igor Spaic about some coffee cups commemorating the "missing persons" from Srebrenica…
Bosnian born artist Aida Sehovic has created this art project in order to raise awareness about the Srebrenica massacre and on 11th of July this year she was doing it in Chicago…
Bringing a cezve and coffee cups – as many coffee cups as those whose remains had been found – she talks to people in the street while drinking coffee…
Igor Spaic says in the news about this very interesting project:
"Bosnian-born artist Aida Sehovic placed thousands of cups of coffee on a Chicago square to mark the anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, creating a unique memorial that tells the public how the victims died.
Every year on July 11, Aida Sehovic and her team of volunteers pour coffee into thousands of small ceramic cups and lines them up on a city square somewhere in the world.
But the people that the coffee was made for never show up to drink it.
Some of them are being buried that day at the memorial centre in Srebrenica after their remains have been exhumed from mass graves and identified by forensic experts.
Most of them have already been buried in previous years; some 1,000 more are still believed to be missing.
Sehovic's temporary monument, entitled 'STO TE NEMA', or 'WHY AREN'T YOU HERE', is aimed at raising awareness about the slaughter of thousands of Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica 22 years ago, which international courts have ruled was an act of genocide. A total of 8,372 victims have so far been named.
Coffee was served this year at Chicago's Daley Plaza on Tuesday.
"We purposefully do not have any signs, flags or banners about the monument on site, so that people who pass by initially have no idea what we are doing and why," Sehovic told BIRN.
"Eliminating any kind of symbols that might separate us allows people to simply approach and ask questions," she said.
Drinking coffee out of small cups is a social event in Bosnia, a ritual that brings families, neighbours and friends together.
Sehovic's cups filled with the dark beverage are to attract people to stop and ask what it's about. They are then informed about the genocide and about why it is important to remember and talk about the thousands of Srebrenica victims.
"When I work with communities which host the monument in each city, and especially the volunteer team which is there on site on July 11th, we talk a lot about how to create an inclusive and welcoming space which everyone feels that they belong to, and that can be part of this commemoration regardless of their personal connection or history to Srebrenica, or Bosnia," she explained.
After living in Germany and Turkey as a refugee of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Sehovic emigrated to the United States in 1997, where she completed her art studies.
She said the initial idea for the project came to her out of frustration - she thought there was nothing she could do for the cause. She wanted to create a space for herself and others to do something, "regardless of how small or symbolic that gesture might be".
"I could have never imagined that something that began as a one-time performance 12 years ago would turn into a participatory nomadic monument that travels all over the world, creating awareness, empathy and solidarity for the Srebrenica genocide," she said.
Sehovic has already displayed her temporary monument in the Bosnian towns of Sarajevo and Tuzla, in several cities in the US, including at the UN headquarters in New York, as well as in Geneva (Switzerland), Toronto (Canada), Istanbul (Turkey), Stockholm (Sweden) and The Hague (Netherlands).
It takes her and the volunteers all day to prepare the traditional Bosnian coffee and place the small filled cups, called fildzan, at the site. The number of fildzans keeps growing each year, donated by Bosnians around the world.
There is never a shortage of help either.
"I am amazed every year how much our communities in the diaspora, and everyone else who encounters 'STO TE NEMA', want to be part of it once they see what it is and that there is room for them to get involved," Sehovic said.
A whole range organisations representing the Bosnian diaspora in the US got involved in this year's effort - led by project coordinator Asja Dizdarevic, it was organised and supported by the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Club of Chicago, the Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center, the Bosnian-North American Women's Association, the Bosnian Islamic Cultural Center, the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago, the Society of American Bosnians and Herzegovinians, the Bosniak Cultural Community Preporod of North America and the Association of Srebrenica Survivors.
"By uniting survivors and everyone else directly or indirectly affected by the Srebrenica genocide, 'STO TE NEMA' highlights that any genocide is a crime against humanity, and therefore a crime against all of us," Sehovic said…"
In the University of Vermont Quarterly, in an article entitled "Cups of memory", here is more information about the artist Aida Sehovic:
"There's significantly more than coffee, sometimes, in a cup of coffee. Particularly in Bosnian culture, notes Aida Sehovic, where preparing and drinking a cup has more in common with the Japanese tea ceremony than the American Starbucks stop. This summer, Sehovic, an artist and 2002 UVM alumna, used the traditional Bosnian ritual of gathering for coffee as the central vehicle for a Sarajevo art installation focused upon her homeland's tragic recent history.
Sehovic had started exploring coffee as a medium during a post-UVM year working on her master's degree at the School of Visual Arts in New York. "As a refugee, it becomes even more important," she says of coffee's place in the Bosnian social fabric. "In most other ways, whether you want to or not, you adjust to the American lifestyle. This is a part of our identity we can keep."
A July 2003 trip back to Bosnia, her family's first return, coincided with the anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which some seven to ten thousand Bosnians were killed. Emotions were particularly high during the July 11-15 anniversary because bodies of the first victims recovered and identified from mass graves were now being ceremonially buried. The experience of returning to Bosnia at such a charged moment turned in Sehovic's imagination and a vision for a future work began to emerge.
Between research, interviews, and developing the concept of her work, Sehovic's "STO TE NEMA?" ("Why are you not here?") was nearly a year in the making, but would be one day in the final production. She made logistical preparations in Bosnia during a six-week leave from her staff position in UVM's Registrar's Office, then on the morning of July 11, 2004, Sehovic set to work on her installation in the square in front of a Sarajevo mosque. A bed of soil, 30 meters across, depicted a map of Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the eastern edge in the area of Srebrenica, 989 cups were set out for each of the residents whose bodies had been identified and re-buried to date. Most were filled with coffee, brewed on-site. Forty-four cups held only sugar cubes representing those under age 18, too young for the ritual, who had died; a single rose represented the one female victim. In a burlap sack at the side, an additional 338 empty cups stood for the individuals to be buried that day in Srebrenica. Three tape recorders embedded in the soil ran tape loops of Sehovic reciting the names and birthdates of the dead.
For the artist, collecting the cups (fildzans in Bosnian) was an important part of both process and product. Many came from Bosnian families in the Burlington area, where Sehovic, her parents and three sisters immigrated in 1997 following previous stays in Turkey and Germany. Many came from residents of Srebrenica and neighbouring areas, some who lost family in the massacre. One woman gave her a cup that had been in her family for 40 years. Considering the participation of so many in the work, Sehovic says, "It is not my project, but our project, our consciousness."
Sehovic says her ultimate goal was to create "an experience that is moving and powerful." Her snapshots of the day include photos such as the one of a woman with a child by her side, kneeling to hear the recitation of names, tears in her eyes; a journal of visitors' reactions includes comments in 13 languages. Sehovic estimates approximately 2,000 saw the exhibit, and many more learned about it through extensive media coverage in Bosnia. "It was a very overwhelming experience," Sehovic says. "It was good for me, as an artist, because I could see that it actually worked. But it is a very sad project."
BRIDGE OF UNDERSTANDING
Professor Kathleen Schneider's 3D- design class was a pivotal moment for Sehovic as an undergraduate, expanding her view of what art could be and leading her to major in studio art. The professor remembers Sehovic as "a risk taker, so willing to experiment." A research project in Schneider's class introduced Sehovic to Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo, whose work focusing on the tragedy of the thousands "disappeared" in her country resonated with the young Bosnian artist. Sehovic began to explore similar themes with Schneider's guidance during her undergraduate years, including her John Dewey Honors Program senior project, an installation titled "Tree of Life."
Sehovic is hoping to extend the reach of "STO TE NEMA?" with subsequent July 11 installations, the number of coffee-filled cups growing as more bodies are discovered, identified, and laid to rest. She's also working on final edits of a video shot by Gates Gooding, a UVM senior. With assistance from URECA! (a UVM undergraduate research grant), Gooding travelled to Bosnia to film and assist in Sehovic's work and create his own film about Bosnian youth.
Sehovic envisions creating two final versions of the "STO TE NEMA?" video —one for Bosnian viewers and one for Americans-and is hoping to screen them at UVM later this year. "A project like this is a way of healing for Bosnians, coming to terms with this terrible thing that happened to us," Sehovic says. "And for Americans it is building a bridge of understanding where Bosnian people are coming from, because it is very hard to talk about these things."…"
Photo: Coffee cups commemorating "missing persons" in Boston last year…
(*) Article published on the 13th of August 2017, Sunday in the POLITIS newspaper.